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Dick Cheney’s definition of torture is too stupid or insulting to let stand

The former vice president said Sunday on “Meet the Press” that the “enhanced interrogation techniques” weren’t torture.

What is Cheney up to?
REUTERS/Olivia Harris

Former Vice President Dick Cheney said Sunday on “Meet the Press” that the “enhanced interrogation techniques” weren’t torture. So, reasonably, “Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd asked him to give his definition of what would constitute torture. Here’s what Cheney said:

“Well, torture, to me, Chuck, is an American citizen on a cell phone making a last call to his four young daughters shortly before he burns to death in the upper levels of the Trade Center in New York City on 9/11. There’s this notion that somehow there’s moral equivalence between what the terrorists and what we do. And that’s absolutely not true. We were very careful to stop short of torture. The Senate has seen fit to label their report torture. But we worked hard to stay short of that definition.”

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. The 9/11 attacks were a moral crime of enormous magnitude, a mass murder, a massacre of innocents. But they have nothing to do with torture.

Here’s the definition of torture from the U.N. convention that bans torture, a document to which the United States is signatory:

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“Torture’ means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.”

What is Cheney up to? I always assumed he was a smart man. This is too stupid to let stand or else it is an insult to the intelligence of even the small portion of the U.S. population that watches “Meet the Press.”

Cheney did say during the interview that the administration relied on legal advice as to the boundaries of torture, and tried to create a program of “enhanced interrogation” that was on the non-torture side of those boundaries. I find that pretty ridiculous and insulting. But I suppose anyone who worked for Bush-Cheney administration was under a lot of pressure to let the CIA do whatever would work.

Personally, without having read all the documents, I don’t know if I believe the conclusion of the Senate Intelligence Committee Democrats that the torture didn’t “work” in terms of extracting information that couldn’t be discovered other ways. Even if it did, our government was bound by law not to torture prisoners.

It’s also easy to assume that Cheney’s answer was not intended as an answer but as a distraction, an effort to remind us of the fear, horror, panic and bloodlust in the wake of 9/11.

In any event, when Todd came back to give Cheney a chance to get real, it went exactly the same. Here is Cheney’s second answer to the how-do-you-define-torture question:

“I’ve told you what meets the definition of torture. It’s what 19 guys armed with airline tickets and box cutters did to 3,000 Americans on 9/11.”

By the way. Todd also asked Cheney whether the subsequent events in Iraq and the neighborhood since the end of “Operation Iraqi Freedom” give him any regrets about the decision to invade.

Cheney said no, and adverted to the generally discredited argument that Saddam Hussein had a substantial relationship with al-Qaida and that Saddam might have provided al-Qaida with WMD.

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The full transcript of the Todd-Cheney interview is here.

Politifact checked the assertion Cheney made and ruled that his claim that there was a danger of Saddam providing WMD to al-Qaida was “false,” and that Cheney’s argument that the prisoners who were tortured were not covered by the Geneva Convention was rated “mostly false.” The full fact-check is here.